Muenz, T.K., S.W. Golladay, G. Vellidis, and L.L. Smith. 2006. Journal of Environmental Quality. 35(5):1924–1938.
To determine useful metrics for assessing stream water quality in the Southeastern Coastal Plain, we examined differences among two buffered and three unbuffered streams in an agricultural landscape in southwestern Georgia. Potential indicators included amphibian diversity and abundance, aquatic macroinvertebrate populations, riparian vegetative structure, water quality, and stream physical parameters. Variability among sites and treatments (buffered vs. unbuffered) existed, with sites in the same treatment as most similar, and disturbances from a nearby eroding gully strongly affecting one unbuffered site. Of the invertebrate metrics examined, percentages of clingers, Ephemeroptera-Plecoptera-Trichoptera (EPT), Elmidae (Coleoptera), Crustacea (Decapoda and Amphipoda), and dipterans were found to be possible indicators of stream health for perennial streams within this region. Overall, buffered sites showed higher percentages of sensitive invertebrate groups and showed lower and more stable concentrations of nitrate N, suspended solids, and fecal coliforms (FCs). Percent canopy cover was similar among sites; however, riparian vegetative coverage and percent leaf litter were greatest at buffered sites. No differences in amphibian abundance, presence, and absence within the riparian area were apparent between sites; however, in-stream larval salamanders were more abundant at buffered streams. In this study, stream buffers appeared to decrease nutrient and sediment loads to adjacent streams, enhancing overall water quality. Selected benthic macroinvertebrate metrics and amphibian abundance also appeared sensitive to agricultural influences. Amphibians show potential as indicator candidates, however further information is needed on their responses and tolerances to disturbances from the microhabitat to landscape levels.